Welcome to the Coming Out Post I’ve Been Putting Off for Years
The first Pride celebration I attended was held on June 28, 2015. It was a small and joyous affair in a small town in the autonomous region of Galicia, located on Spain’s Atlantic Coast. None of the few pictures I took came out well, but here’s a picture of me from earlier that same day, shortly after two friends picked me up at the airport:
These same friends, a lesbian couple I’ve known for years–my friendship with one of them goes all the way back to my undergraduate days–took me to Santiago de Compostela on July 2. They gave me the moral support I needed to buy myself women’s clothing for the first time, despite intense anxiety.
We also visited a wonderful lesbian bar that is, unfortunately, now defunct.
My friends in Spain were among the few people at the time to know that I had come to identify as queer. That much has been known to anyone who follows my social media for some time now, but I have never discussed it publicly at length. These old friends, however, also knew then what has begun to become known to the general public only in the last few weeks: namely that during the previous year, when I was poly dating a queer woman in Moscow (I was doing academic research and teaching at a Russian university at the time), I had realized, and admitted to myself despite anxiety about the likely fallout of eventually coming out, that I am a transgender woman.
In the aftermath of that moment, I told a few people privately that she/her pronouns had come to feel most natural to me, though I wasn’t ready to make any kind of public pronoun change. And roughly two years after that milestone in self-discovery, I also learned that not only can I admire male bodies without qualms (something that had already been true for a good while), but that I can also crush on men as well as women.
Since that time, I have attended and enjoyed more Pride-related events. And each year, as International Transgender Visibility Day and then Pride Month come and go, I consider writing about my queerness, coming more fully out of the closet, and yet I haven’t–until now. Sure, I tried to push myself in little ways here and there. On a number of podcasts, I’ve said something like “In many ways, I identify more with women than with men.” Part of the reason for this sort of hinting and beating around the bush in not the most visible of spaces is that I’ve been trying to push myself and to build up the confidence to come out more fully. I was raised evangelical, after all–sometimes I still have to be passive-aggressive with myself.
To be honest, under normal circumstances, I don’t think I would have been brave enough to come out as a trans woman before I had gotten to a point in life where I could begin transitioning. The only reason I am doing so now is because I felt the issue to be more or less forced during an internecine exvangelical falling out in which I became the target of a smear campaign on social media. If you want to read about how I was harassed by people I thought were my friends, how I responded, and the attendant drama, there’s a Twitter thread for you here. (Note that the dress I’m wearing in the selfie is the one I bought in Spain in 2015.)
And so here we are. I’m facing my hangups and fear around discussing my queerness and my gender in detail, and while my anxiety has certainly flared up, I’ve also received an outpouring of support on social media that has warmed my heart.
Where I’m From
It took me almost two decades after I began deconstructing evangelicalism to feel like I had rather a lot to say about it and that I was ready to do so publicly. And as I’ve noted before, survivors of abusive indoctrination in toxic Christianity are often able to change our minds about something intellectually–for example, the existence of hell–long before we stop feeling the old emotions around it. I was afraid of going to hell, deeply, viscerally afraid, for a long time after I stopped believing in it. Interestingly, it was only after I recognized my gender that I really stopped being afraid of hell, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It seems to me that continually repressed queerness was an undercurrent to my deconstruction that needed to be resolved.
So here’s a bit of my story. I was raised as a boy in Jesus Land, USA. I was not particularly good at being a boy and was precocious enough to get away with a degree of non-conformity, but only a degree. Even that seems radical to the denizens of Jesus Land. Growing up, I felt “different,” “off,” uncomfortable in my own skin–so I learned to live in my head. Becoming cerebral as a coping mechanism helped launch me from Jesus Land to Stanford, where I got my Ph.D. in Russian history, so thanks, I guess? Of course there are no tenure-track jobs in the field, and I still sometimes wonder whether I should have dropped out of grad school at some point.
As a kid, I read a lot, but I grew up in an environment in which sexuality was “a choice” and genderqueerness unheard of. At times I got teased for not conforming to masculine stereotypes; a popular boy in high school seemed to find my enthusiasm for Alanis Morissette endlessly amusing. I would shrug these things off by retorting, “I’m comfortable in my masculinity,” but the only thing that ever really meant was “I like girls.” Which I did, and not at all only romantically or sexually.
Later in high school, when I could drive and I had participated in some programs outside the evangelical bubble, like taking summer honors classes at Indiana State University, I got looked at askance for frequently going out with girls–far more often than not, not on dates, but simply because we were genuinely friends. (In fact, what little dating I did do in high school was accompanied by high anxiety on my part because of purity culture.) As a German and pre-grad history major at Ball State University, I did two of my major college history papers–my primary source lab project and my undergraduate thesis–on women’s studies topics, just because that’s where my interests fell. And the more I became my own person, the more it seemed that most of the people I was drawn to as friends turned out to be women and/or queer.
But my understanding of gender remained thoroughly constricted as I slowly and painstakingly broke away from evangelicalism, feeling like “an impossible person who shouldn’t exist” and trying as hard as I could to stay in the fold so that I wouldn’t rock the boat with my family. Any conception I would have had of a transgender woman would have been of someone far more femme than me who was attracted exclusively to men. I know this is silly, but I simply had no awareness that gender and sexuality operate independently, or of the rich diversity of gender identities and expressions out there.
I was 33 (hey, just like Jesus when he was crucified!) and, oddly enough, living in Putin’s right-wing Russia, when I finally had the intellectual toolkit and life experience necessary to realize that I didn’t have to be a man. And, given that I had never really “felt like” a man–even though at that time I had grown a beard and started trying to part my hair on the left side rather than on the right, where it parts naturally, in order to appear more masculine–wow, what a relief that revelation was. It was now okay to admit to myself and to people I trusted that what I really wanted was to be “one of the girls.” At the same time, it was scary, because this was not something that was going to go over well with my childhood friends and relatives from Jesus Land. I’m luckier than most former evangelicals with how things are going so far, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park.
So, where do we go from here? I don’t know. As most of readers of Not Your Mission Field are probably aware, after giving up on the tenure-track academic search and deciding to continue pursuing writing and public speaking rather than letting myself get bogged down in the dead end of adjuncting, I moved back in with my parents in Indiana to see if I could make a go of it and to save money toward getting back out on my own. I had been teaching at the University of South Florida in Tampa for three academic years, first as a postdoctoral scholar and then as a visiting instructor in the Honors College, but then I ran out of good-but-not-permanent instructor jobs with benefits.
In the coming weeks, I need to figure out whether I’m ready to move yet this summer to some place where I can get into therapy and start moving ahead with changing my gender expression, or whether I don’t find that feasible at this point. Right now, when journalists and editors ask for my pronouns, I think I’ll stick with they/them, and I won’t bite anybody’s head off for use of he pronouns. But she/her really does feel best. I like that Chris is a gender neutral name, and it’s fine if people use it, but I’ll be increasingly going by Chrissy. When I am finally able to transition, I suppose I will document that on this blog. I’m still scared. The Trump regime is waging a full-on assault on trans rights and existence, with the enthusiastic backing of the kind of right-wing Christians I grew up among and as. But, as much as I didn’t want to speak it so fully and publicly at this point, this is my truth. And this is the first Pride Month when I’m finally speaking it out loud.
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